The WTA is worldwide the number 1 in women’s professional sport. It represents more than 2,200 players from 96 nations. Record prize money totalling over 84 million dollars is at stake at the 56 tournaments in 32 countries that are scheduled for the 2011 season.
The season’s top highlights are the Grand Slam tournaments in Melbourne, Paris, Wimbledon and New York. The tournament with the biggest purse is the US Open in New York where players will be competing for prize money totalling 10,258,000 dollars. Alongside the Grand Slams, there are 20 Premier Events where total prize money is between 618,000 and 4,500,000 dollars. The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix also belongs to the top category. Additionally, there are 30 International Tournaments where prize money amounts to 220,000 dollars respectively. The season’s eight top ranked players plus the four top ranked doubles teams all qualify for a place at the season-ending 4,900,000 dollar WTA Championships in Istanbul.
It was the American Billie Jean King and eight fellow players that paved the way for a better future for women’s tennis in September 1970. They all signed one dollar contracts with Gladys Heldman, the publisher of the “World Tennis” magazine, so that they could take part in the new women’s tour. The “Original 9”, as the group were called, included, along with Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Kerry Melville, Peaches Bartkovicz, Kristy Pigeon, Judy Dalton, Valerie Ziegenfuss and Julie Heldman. Together with her friend Joe Cullman, who worked for the cigarette giant Philip Morris, Gladys Heldman provided the stage for women’s tennis that the “Original 9” and many other players had longed for. The first tournament, the 7,500 dollar Virginia Slims of Houston, took place on 23 September 1970. It was the tournament that became the groundbreaker.
In 1971, the Virginia Slims Circuit contained 9 tournaments in the USA with a total purse of 309,100 dollars. Billie Jean King was the first female athlete to win a six figure sum in a season. In 1973, she founded the Women’s Tennis Association at a meeting in the Gloucester Hotel, London on the eve of Wimbledon. Later in the year, the US Open offered equal prize money to women and men. In 1974, the WTA signed its first TV contract with CBS.
1979: the new main sponsor offered a record 100,000 dollars to the winner of the season-ending championship.
1980: by now over 250 players were playing in the Tour consisting of 47 global events. Prize money totalled 7.2 million dollars.
1982: Martina Navratilova became the first woman to earn over one million dollars in a season.
1984: Martina Navratilova received a one million dollar bonus from the ITF for holding all four Grand Slam titles at the same time. She earned more than two million dollars in the season and exceeded John McEnroe, the men’s No. 1. The Australian Open joined the US Open in giving equal prize money to the men and women.
1986: Martina Navratilova earned more than 10 million dollars.
1988: Steffi Graf won not only all four Grand Slams but also the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Seoul.
1990: The season-ending Championships in New York’s Madison Square Garden was the first one million dollar tournament. Martina Navratilova won her ninth Wimbledon singles title.
1995: The WTA Players Association merged with the Women’s Tennis Council to form the WTA. Prize money for the season-ending Championships was doubled to two million.
1997: Martina Hingis became the first player in history to win one million dollars before 31 March. One day later she became the youngest world No 1 of all time. She replaced Steffi Graf, who topped the rankings for a total of 377 weeks – a record for women and men.
1999: after 17 years and 22 Grand Slam titles, Steffi Graf retired. She had won a total of 21,895,277 million dollars in prize money.
2001: Overall Tour prize money was increased to 50 million dollars for the 63 tournaments. A Middle Eastern Tour with tournaments in Doha and Dubai was included in the schedule for the first time. Jennifer Capriati celebrated a fairytale comeback. She won the first two Grand Slam titles of her career and became the world No 1 in October.
2002: the Williams sisters fulfilled their father’s prophesy by becoming the No 1 players in the world – Venus in February and the Serena in July.
2003: Porsche became the North American Promotional Sponsor of the WTA. Kim Clijsters was the first female athlete to win more than four million dollars in a single season.
2005: Sony Ericsson became the WTA’s new worldwide title sponsor. The 88 million dollar and six year contract was the biggest sponsorship in the history of tennis and women’s professional sport. As the winner of the US Open Series, Kim Clijsters earned double prize money for winning the US Open. The 2.2 million dollar cheque was the biggest payday in tennis. It was the year of the comebacks. Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne plus the Williams sisters won the four Grand Slams and Amélie Mauresmo took the season-ending Championships.
2006: Innovations such as Hawkeye and on-court coaching made the sport more attractive. The biggest TV deal in the history of women’s tennis was signed with Eurosport/Regency. After winning the mixed title at the US Open, Martina Navratilova said farewell to the Tour after 32 years. The Sony Ericsson WTA and the UNESCO formed a worldwide partnership to promote women’s leadership in society.
2007: The WTA’s Board of Directors approves a comprehensive set of reforms for the Tour that include a shorter season and a 40 per cent increase in prize money. After an historical step, Roland Garros and Wimbledon finally offered prize money parity for women and men. Justine Henin, the world No. 1, became the first woman to earn over five million dollars in a season.
2008: The WTA unveils its biggest ever advertising campaign under the motto “Looking For A Hero?” just before Wimbledon. At about the same time they open their third headquarters in Beijing to add to the others in St. Petersburg, USA and London. At the age of 25, Justine Henin becomes the first reigning world No. 1 to announce her retirement from the game.
2011: The WTA calendar includes 56 tournaments with prize money totalling a record 84,126,655 dollars. The WTA Championships with the season’s top eight players will be staged for the first time in Istanbul